Turkey's Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak, pictured at a press conference in Ankara in August 2018. A Turkish newspaper is accused of insulting the minister through its reporting. (AFP/Adem Altan)
Turkey's Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak, pictured at a press conference in Ankara in August 2018. A Turkish newspaper is accused of insulting the minister through its reporting. (AFP/Adem Altan)

Turkey Crackdown Chronicle: Week of November 8, 2018

Court sentences former Zaman journalist
A court in Uşak on November 14 convicted Ali Ünal, a former columnist for the shuttered daily Zaman, of “founding and leading an armed terrorist organization” and sentenced him to 19 years and six months in prison, the news website Diken reported. The court acquitted the journalist of coup-related charges, which could have resulted in life sentences, according to the report.

In his final statement to the court, Ünal said that he was not named as an organization leader in any other FETÖ trials so he did not understand why he was being tried as one. He said, “I have no connections to any terrorist organizations. I started to travel to the U.S. after 1996 for translating books. I have met with Fehullah Gülen five to six times. He liked me asking questions, so I have had some meetings. I do not know anybody from the organization’s structure in the military, judiciary or police. The prosecution accuses me of ‘attempting to overthrow the constitutional order.’ I heard of the coup on July 16, on the TV.”

Police detained Ünal in the western province of Uşak on August 14, 2016, as part of a sweeping purge of suspected followers of exiled preacher Fethullah Gülen. The government accuses Gülen of maintaining a terrorist organization and “parallel state structure” (or FETÖ/PDY, as the government calls it) within Turkey that it blames for orchestrating a failed military coup on July 15, 2016.

Appeals court overturns Wall Street Journal reporter’s sentence

An appeals court on November 13 threw out a 25-month prison sentence handed to Ayla Albayrak, a former reporter for the Wall Street Journal, her previous employer reported. A court in October 2017 found Albayrak guilty in absentia of “making propaganda for a [terrorist] organization,” according to reports. The appeals court overturned the guilty verdict “on procedural grounds, citing statute of limitations, but didn’t rule on the substance of the charges” the Wall Street Journal reported.

Journalist back in custody after appeal hearing

Police on November 9 detained journalist and entertainer Atilla Taş at his home, following a decision by a local appeals court last month to uphold the sentence against him, according to reports.

Taş was first detained on August 31, 2016 and released on October 15, 2017 pending trial, CPJ documented. A court on March 8, 2018, sentenced him to 37 months and 15 days in prison for “knowingly and willingly aiding a [terrorist] organization,” alongside other defendants, but he was released for time served, according to reports at the time. Murat Aksoy, a journalist and co-defendant in the trial was handed a 25-month sentence for the same charge as Taş, according to reports.

Lawyers representing the journalists told CPJ last month that they will take the case to the national Supreme Court of Appeals.

Yaman Akdeniz, a lawyer for Taş, told the independent news website Bianet this week that the journalist had already served 14 months in prison, but needs to serve at least two years, four months, and five days, before being eligible for release. Turkish law shortens prison terms by two thirds, meaning Taş would be eligible to apply for release on probation by January 2019. Akdeniz said that the lawyers will appeal the arrest separately. Taş is serving his time at Silivri prison in Istanbul, according to a November 12 tweet by Akdeniz.

Aksoy, who was also released on time served, said this week on social media that he received a notice from a prosecutor’s office. Aksoy tweeted on November 13 that he and his lawyer will see a prosecutor in 10 days to turn himself in, adding, “We will see what happens.”

Evrensel faces insult trial over critical report on finance minister

The leftist daily Evrensel reported on November 14 that a court has accepted a complaint alleging that the paper insulted Berat Albayrak, the Minister of Treasury and Finance who is also the president’s son-in-law, and seeking 100,000 Turkish lira (US$18,317) compensation. The complaint is related to an analysis titled “Albayrak signalled a program to attack the workers” published on July 13, 2018 that was critical of the economy policy. Evrensel said that it published a correction text sent by the government, as is legally required.